Second Language learning and its benefits to the human brain

In order to illustrate the differences in brain activation from monolingual to bilingual learning, this Application demonstration will highlight the areas of the brain which are associated with language learning and particularly second language acquisition. Each area will be defined with the role that each plays in the process of language learning. The analysis will include methodologies often performed in second language classrooms that help understand the connection between mnemonics and brain activity. The purpose of this presentation is to solidify the theoretical and research-based claims of the developmentally advanced skills that can be acquired through second language learning, and its lifelong lasting effects in cognitive development and activity.

The Bilingual Brain

The Human brain is the operations center of the body. It is made of over 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, whose main duty is to transport electric impulses through the cerebral cortex, establish connections from one dendrite to another, and use all its subsections to enable the performance of each operating system in the human body (Junqueira, Carneiro 2003). Its main sections and subsections, known respectively as lobes and lobules, operate independently and interdependently to consolidate the process of impulse emulsion, reception, and production which are associated with every single activity of our body. Those subsections are catalogued by the activity for which they are responsible, either those who involve large body parts (gross motor), smaller body parts (fine motor), or even parts of the body whose function is to secrete the hormones and elements that allow us to be alive such as the endocrine, immune, digestive, respiratory, mental, and circulatory systems. (Junqueira, Carneiro 2003).

The breadth component of the KAM demonstrated through the theoretical analysis of language learning that acquiring language is a complex concept. It is both a neurological response system of production that occurs after inherent and automatic brain stimuli and processing. It is also a social function that is measured, judged, categorized, and chosen upon by the speaker, under a criteria of circumstance of usage, and monitored by the proper employment of the tool in a monitor language basis (Chomsky, 1957; Bandura, 1977; Krashen, 1987). Therefore, the process of language is a result of both nature, and nurture, which is perhaps the reason why its acquisition, comprehension, retention, production, and moderation have not been pinned down to a clear-cut process. The circumstantial elements that come as a result of learning a language are as important as the neurobiological processes that occur in the process of acquiring it.

The specific nature of each of the brain lobes

The brain is divided into segments which adhere to a skill or activity of which they are responsible to regulate. The four lobes (specific areas of activity) of the brain are: a) Frontal, b) Parietal, c) Occipital, and d) Temporal. The picture below show the areas of skill and activity to which each of the lobes is associated. The location of the sections and subsection impact the process of learning, and particularly language acquisition.

The total extent of each segment cover the entire volume of the brain from left to right. If the brain were to be split into two, these sections would fall under either the right or left hemispheres of the brain. It is a biological fact that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the human body, and that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the human body. This is why some tasks and activities are specifically attributed to left or right hemisphere-controlled areas.

Language Activity

Typically, brain activity related to language has been related to the left hemisphere (left side) of the brain. Within the left side, there are two areas that have been directly linked to the processing of language, primarily due to the organs responsible for listening and speaking. These areas are named the Wernicke area and the Broca area. (Clifford, 2008)

The Wernicke area:

The Wernicke’s area is in the left temporal lobe (or left, specific, segment) and near the primary auditory cortex of the brain. The primary auditory cortex of the brain is a highly-organized area whose neurons (cells) are sensitive to every sound and frequency in the environment. This area is primarily associated with hearing, and for the formation of musical elements, and language, since these are all systems that operate through sounds. It is important to note that the primary auditory system is organized in a way that the cells in its cortex react specifically to certain sounds and frequencies, and even loudness and pitches (Clifford, 2008)


The location of the Wernicke area confers its ability for analyzing spoken language. Experiments have shown how aphasia, which is a condition in which people cannot understand (but can hear) what is being said to them, is a direct result of damage to the area.

Broca’s Area

Contrastingly to Wenickle area, which lays in the temporal lobe, Broca’s area lies in left side

of the frontal lobe.

While Wernickle is closer to the auditory cortex, Broca’s are is in the frontal lobe which is closer to the primary motor cortex. The primary motor cortex is one of the areas which plans and execute movements. The specific duty of Broca’s area, however, is to produce coherent speech. This was also proven in experiments where lesions to the Brica area resulted in difficulties producing grammatical language.

The Wernickle and Broca area are hence respectively associated with the listening and production of language. Wernickle could be described as the headquarters where all the language is collected, as if the estuary of a river. Broca is the apparatus that would gather the impulses, frequencies, and sounds from Wernickle and its adjacent areas, and put them together into complete words, phrases, sentences, and thoughts. This combination of tasks mirrors Krashen’s “language learned and language acquired” hypotheses. In his hypotheses, Krashen says that language is acquired by nature, yet edited, monitored, and used properly after it is “learned” (Krashen, 1987). This also mirrors Chomsky’s Universal Grammar theory of a language which is inherited through a linguistic corpus, and its subsequent production thanks to the Language Acquisition Devive (LAD) (Chomsky, 1957).

Similarly, Bandura’s four steps for language can be directly correlated to the lobes of the brain : Attention and its requirements for visual and auditive inputs can be correlated to the frontal and temporal areas. Retention is directed to sensory, episodic and working memory which occurs in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a smaller specific area in the forebrain and located in the medial temporal lobe, along where the Wernickle area is. Production of language would be related to the Brocca area as an area of language production. Motivation would be directly linked to the prefrontal lobe, which is in the frontal cortex of the brain, and the area of the neurological system where dopamine-sensitive neurons are primarily found. These hormones are associated with pleasure, long-term memory, planning, emotions and motivation.

The Frontal and Temporal lobes as related to the Wernicke and Broca areas

Studies made by Hirsch et al (2008) showed through the use of fMRI that in the bilingual brain the first and second languages are activated differently from the Boca to the Wernicke area. In the Broca area, the first and second language activate with a more marked degree of separation in spatially separated area regions within the area. This is possibly due to that the Broca Area is a region of the frontal lobe, which is associated with motor skills to include the movement of the mouth and its components. The implication of this means that the brain is aware of how to employ the use of palatal, bilabial, and lingual functions switching from one language to another.

In the Wernicke area, however, its temporal lobe location along with its auditive components language is supposed to be comprehended and understood. In other words, in both areas, second and first language activate, but at different rates, and in different spaces.

There is a second implication to Hirsch study. The patterns in which second language processing seems to occur in the brain denote most difficulty processing in the Broca than in the Wernicke area. This means that the assumption that adults cannot speak languages due to comprehension processing problems is wrong. What really happens is that adults lose their motor abilities gradually through aging. Those motor abilities that are required for the production of a word when asked on the spot are less apparent with age, which is why adults will devote more attention to word formation and intonation and, in the event of it being hard to do, they lose the focus on the meaning, the motivation on the task, and do not produce the language.

The frontal lobe: Associated with memory, motivation, emotions, planning and execution of activities, and the formation of speech that is organized as produced in the Broca area.

The temporal lobe: Associated with the auditory cortex, the Hippocampus or the area where listening tasks take place as well as the collection of sounds and frequencies associated with language produced in the Wernicke area.

Associated with the auditory cortex, the Hippocampus or the area where listening tasks take place as well as the collection of sounds and frequencies associated with language produced in the Wernicke area.

Image retrieved from Clifford , E. SparkNote on Brain Anatomy. 9 Jul. 2008

Centra Lateral Cortex, the left brainstem, the inferior parietal lobule, and the right lateral premotor cortex.

According to research by De Zubicaray, McMahon, Wilson, and Muthiah (2001), the central lateral prefrontal cortex of the brain receives increased cortical signals selectively under cognitive testing, and during tasks requiring retention (p. ) Additional research shows that the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex receives increased cortical signals selectively in that area during the process of memory retention under cognitive testing, and activity is also reported in the left brainstem, the inferior parietal lobule, and the right lateral premotor cortex. The depth component of the KAM will provide additional information on recent research based on the areas of retention and language reproduction. The importance of naming such research for the study of Bandura’s social learning lies in the fact that it shows the biopsychological implications of Bandura’s theoretical views of learning.

The Parietal Lobe

The word “parietal” stands for “walled” or surrounded by a wall (Encarta dictionary, 2006). The subsection of the brain called the parietal lobe is made up of the poscentral gyrus,, the central sulculs, and the postcentral sulcus. The rest of it is a bipartite division of a superior and inferior parietal lobe (Kroll, 2008) Many components of the parietal lobe are directly linked to language and comprehension, particularly because some of the areas of the parietal lobe are responsible for senses and feelings, or “somatosensation”. This connection to sound, symbols, emotions, and feelings are part of what many second language programs integrate as part of the curriculum to evoke semantic encoding, activate prior knowledge, and make keyword mnemonic connections that would help retrieval of terms on tasks. (Fabro, 2006) Inside the parietal lobe the very important apparatus called the post central sulcus will give the final word in language acquisition and production.

The Post Central Gyrus

Inside the parietal lobe, there is area called the Post Central Gyrus, which is located in shaded area in picture above. The Post Central gyrus denotes a specific ability for sensation and feeling (Kroll, 2008).This apparatus received electric impulses from the thalamus, and immediately encodes information that, in turn, activates the touch senses and signals pain, temperatures, and even the position of the limbs (diverts left from right). In the second language classroom, the post central gyrus then activated during activities where the five senses are integrated as part of a second language lesson. Using this part of the brain will help concretize words such as “hot, cold, hard, soft, rough” and other adjectives that can be learned kinesthetically and by using the senses. Therefore, in a second language program there is a constant activation of this area of the brain, considering the type of activities that are often put together to evoke sound to symbol, and feeling to meaning. (Kroll, 2008)

The inferior Parietal Lobule

This illustration above shows the Superior and Inferior parietal lobule which are the upper and lower parts of the apparatus. The inferior parietal lobule is important in the areas of linguistic intelligence. The picture shows that the inferior parietal lobule is located in a part of the brain where the visual, sensory, somatosensory, and auditory cortexes are also connected. According to research, the neurons in the inferior parietal lobule tend to multitask and process stimuli from all these sources, even at once. (Kroll, 2008)

Studies show that the inferior parietal lobule in primates still has characteristics of late evolution. (Green, 2005 p. 530) This means that, compared to adults, the inferior parietal lobule of primates appears less developed than that of humans. The implication here is that there is a possibility that this area of the brain evolves and develops along with the rest of the body, and due to its exposure to language. None of this is scientifically assured, but there is a high (possibility that the reason why our lobes are different from that or primates is because of our higher exposure to language. The premise is that, as we become exposed to language and higher order thinking, more neural connections are established, and the flexibility of the brain is more evident in its growth, expansion, and ability to acquire more information. A similar situation takes place with the brains of children and adults, where the brains of adults are more developed. The differences between adult and children brains importance of developmentally-appropriate activities with aims to expand and extend skill as shown in Vygotsky’s theory of the Most Knowledgeable Others (MKO’s). In Vygotsky’s theory, those students who are at a more advanced level can cooperatively help their peers to dominate a skill and aim for the next highest level of it within a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which is basically the same as “the next most developed stage” (Vygotsky, 1977).

The implication for second language programs, and the role of the inferior parietal lobule in the processing of a target language, is that tasks such as word recognition, matching words to flashcards, matching words to pictures, intonating to the accents of the target language, identifying sounds, and connecting sounds to symbols are key methodologies to introduce students to vocabulary that they had never been exposed to before (Kroll, 2008). Therefore, another additive benefit of foreign language programs is the additional exposure to brain activity and to employing the skills that are produced by the inferior parietal lobule. Monolingual students would only have an opportunity of that nature within their own language; bilingual students get to do it in two different language systems, hence, expose their bran to more activity. Studies hypothesize that these abilities might lead to additional skills of thought such as critical thinking. In turn, critical thinking would lead to enhancing basic skills such as division and classification, categorization, conceptualization and mathematical problem solving (Frenck-Mestre, C. 2005)

Implications for language learning programs

The information that as presented in this paper has implications concerning the methodology that should be implemented in the second language learning program, and shows direct proof that would coincide with the hypothesis that second language programs are indeed additive to the process of learning by exposing the students to additional tasks of memory retrieval, sustained attention, code-switching, and discriminatory verbal usage. For each part of the brain that is engaged during the process of learning, there are activities that correlate to the skill that is meant

to enhance language acquisition. (Fabro, 2006 p. 5)

The field of neuropsychology continues to investigate the connection between brain and language. The application analysis in this paper aims to consolidate the parts of the brain, their function, and the skills that are possible to be developed as part of an activity program in second language acquisition. In the following page, these elements will be combined into one chart. In that chart the summary of the information described in the application and depth sections will be explained in part by suggesting activities that go together with the activity described.

Correlations chart of brain activity and classroom activities for second language acquisition.Part of the Brain





· Broca Area

· Frontal Lobe: Front of the brain

· Memory, emotions, motivation, execution and planning of activities

· Rote memory exercises

· Cloze tasks

· Journaling “How do I feel today”

· Class challenges

· Memory retrieval

· Activating prior knowledge

· Inferencing

· Connecting emotions to tasks

· Increasing motivation.

Wernicke area

· Temporal lobe: Middle and back of the brain

· Auditory cortex (hearing)

· Hippocampus (processing of sounds and frequencies)

· Musical activities

· Intonation exercises

· Reading aloud

· Rhyming exercises

· Poetry

· Listening skills

· Connecting sounds and symbols

· Relating words to how they sound

· Intonating properly

Post Central Gyrus

· Parietal Lobe towards the back/right hands side of the brain

· Signals pain, pleasure, temperature, sensations, and feelings

· Integrate kinesthetic

· Relate words to the five senses

· Tasting/ hearing/ touching tasks

· Using realia

· Connecting word meanings to actual feelings and sensations

· Connecting the five senses to the lesson and bring more meaning to the words.

Inferior parietal lobule

· Parietal Lobe; central location connecting visual sensory, and the auditory cortexes


· sensory, somatosensory, and auditory cortex

· Focused activities where students will listen and learn to appreciate the sounds and pronunciation of words.

· Discriminatory listening activities

· Appreciating the similarities and differences in language pronunciation

· Learning correct intonation and accents

· Engaging mouth muscles in verbal activities


The Foreign Language in the Elementary school program in Ft. Benning is currently being evaluated for extension, or extinction. The signs of the future disappearance of the program include its sudden exclusion from the 4th and 5th grade, and the fact that teaching positions have narrowed from 12 to four, leaving little doubt of the prevalence of the program’s incline.

The Breadth component of this Knowledge Area Module was able to identify the theoretical frameworks from Chomsky, Bandura, Vygotsky, Krashen and Gardner that help to recognize the importance and the impact of second language acquisition in the educational process of a student. With Chomsky, we viewed learning as a social and cognitive process that commences with exposure and elongates with experience. Bandura taught us about the importance of self-efficacy, social modeling, and the processes of attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Vygotsky showed the importance of growing within a Zone of Proximal development where the next step is always to be achieved. Krashen’s theory connects language learning with social change in with the many hypothesis of input, language acquired, and language learned. Gardner sets second language learning and its potential as an intelligence of its own, which he named “linguistic”, and is notable for the ability to acquire, retain, and produce language.

The Depth component of the Knowledge Area Module showed over 15 different researches pointing out specific areas of the brain that become activated during activity related to the practice of second language learning. Both theory and research were combined in the discussion in aims to demonstrate how scientific investigations are correlated to the theoretical foundations of language acquisition. The research investigations that point out the specific parts of the brain that are engaged in second language learning were analyzed and correlated to tasks and possible activities to do in the classroom. The implications to second language learning demonstrated the value to that second language learning adds to the learning process in the areas of inferencing, connection sound and symbol, critical thinking, and the use of working memory to ascertain the meaning of a word.

The Application component of the module was able to add the areas of the brain that are engaged in second language learning, connected them to specific activities and explained how these activities increase the skill of the student. Along with the discussion of the Breadth and Depth components, the Application illustrated the information gathered from the philosophical analysis and the research analysis. In the end, the application provided a chart for quick referencing that summarized most of the gist of the research component discussed in the Depth. All these elements combine to prove the hypothesis that the FLES program in Ft. Benning, GA must continue to operate and should not be shut down, as its additive value to the learning process can be evidenced through theory, research, and through the proper assessment of how students become better after exposure to the program.

Application References

Fabbro, F., The bilingual brain: cerebral Clahsen, Harald and Claudia Felser 2006: Grammatical processing in language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics 27 (4), 3-42.

Frenck-Mestre, C. (2005): Ambiguities and anomalies: what can eye movements and

event-related potentials reveal about second language sentence processing? In Kroll, J., and Degroot, A. (eds) Handbook of Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic

representation of languages, Language, Vol. 79 (8), 8 p. 211-22.

Finger, S., (2000) Minds behind the brain: a history of the pioneers and their discoveries, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Green, D. W. 2005: The neurocognition of recovery patterns in bilingual aphasics. In Judith F. Kroll and Annette M. B. DeGroot (eds.), Handbook of Bilingualism:Psycholinguistic Perspectives, 516-530. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kroll, J. (2008) Adult Second Language Acquisition: A Cognitive Science Perspective in Human Behavior in Military Contexts. New York: National Academy Press

Schumann, J. H., Crowell. S, Jones, N. Schuchert, S. (2004) The Neurobiology of Learning: Perspectives from Second Language Acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.


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